KATHERINE HESTER RECALLS THAT as a young girl she would sit and draw things that caught her budding artist’s eye. Her bucolic upbringing certainly afforded endless opportunities to sketch natural surroundings. Her father, Tom Curtis, was not only an accomplished artist, he was also a fisheries biologist. The family lived on-site at a wildlife center. Whether the subject was a split rail fence along a solitary dirt road, the deer feeding in a field or herons gliding over the banks of the Cooper River, inspiration abounded. “I don’t remember when I didn’t have a sketch pad and charcoal,” says Hester. “Thanks to Dad, art and nature were always a big part of my life.”
Art entered her father’s life later in his journey. “Back in the ’70s, my doctor recommended I take up painting to improve my health,” says Curtis. He signed up for a night class and learned about working with charcoal, watercolor, pastels, oil and acrylics, enjoying a penchant for pastels and oil painting.
Indeed, mastering such a skill proved therapeutic. “The best feeling when you paint is when time disappears. It is true magic when you start painting and the canvas talks back to you, telling you what it needs,” says Curtis, who recalls many evenings when he started painting at 10 in the evening and the first time he looked at his watch it was 2 or 3 a.m. Curtis painted on and off for years, and his health improved. He then took a hiatus from painting to concentrate on his work as a biologist and raising a family. He reunited with his passion about a dozen years ago, when he retired and continued to hone his craft.
Although both Curtis and Hester share DNA, their artwork is quite distinct. Curtis loves painting landscapes and birds. “People appreciate nature,” he says. “One of my goals is for people to look at my work and feel as relaxed and peaceful as I do.”
His objective to transport the viewer is clear in his comprehensive and detailed treatment of his subject matter, as he employs a thorough approach and true-to-nature color palette. “I wanted Katherine to develop her own style. You can tell her work from mine very easily,” he says.
Not only does Hester’s subject matter differ (think ballerinas and women donning fascinators), but she employs a fanciful and modern color palette, experimenting with mixed media, often with a relaxed brushstroke. Hester’s work includes still life, landscape and portraits in oil and mixed media. “The changing colors of the landscape and unique people of the Lowcountry serve as inspiration,” she notes.
Hester received her Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Charleston and a master’s degree in education from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She studied studio art from numerous professors at the College of Charleston and from professional artists in the Southeast. She then combined art and nature while she taught art and science for more than 10 years. “Later, my husband encouraged me to set up a studio in our home and paint full time,” says Hester. After her father retired he would often stop by the studio.
Hester was recently named North Charleston’s Artist-in-Residence for 2019–2020 and will be working with the Cultural Arts Department on public art projects throughout the city as part of her residency. The North Charleston City Gallery, located within the Charleston Area
Curtis and Hester were invited to participate in the annual Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition. It was the first time in the festival’s 40-year history that there was a father-daughter team. Recent exhibitions include Tom Curtis and Katherine Curtis Hester: Art in the Family at Charleston’s Spencer Gallery and a group exhibition at the Santee Canal State Park in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.
“For 16 days we got to hang out and spend a lot of time together, talking to patrons about our process and the end result. We decided at that point to combine our artwork on a website that is just launching now,” says Hester. The entire Curtis family is involved in the pair’s art.
As for what they learn from each other, Hester says her dad taught her to pay attention to light—how it creates focal points, how it changes during the day and how it affects the colors being used. Curtis admires his daughter’s fantastic sense of color and says she taught him to be a little more free with his brushstroke. Hester hopes to inspire other families to share art with the people they love.
As for Curtis’ legacy, he observes, “Not only will I leave my artwork, but I am also going to leave a very worthy artist in my daughter.”
Stacey Marcus is a Boston-based freelance lifestyle, luxury and travel writer. Her works have appeared in Art New England, Boston, Boston Common Magazine, Modern Luxury Chicago, Ocean Home Magazine, Playboy.com, RD.com and many others. A lover of big words and little white dogs, Stacey’s biggest joys are found in life’s simple moments.